Prosecution’s actions examined at Operation Rhino hearing

Disclosure of details of a sentencing indication given to a man who would become a key Crown witness is at the centre of a civil action against the prosecution in the 2006 and 2007 Operation Rhino trials in Christchurch.

The Crown prosecutor at both trials, Pip Currie said she now wishes she had disclosed the sentencing indication in its entirety.

But the two-week civil hearing in the High Court at Christchurch, before Justice Peter Churchman, is examining what Mrs Currie believed was referred to in the sentencing indication given by a Wellington judge.

Five defendants in the Operation Rhino burglary and receiving trials have taken action against the prosecution after appeals against their convictions succeeded in the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal quashed the convictions and ordered a retrial over non-disclosure of details about what was alleged to be an “inducement” given to the key witness. The Crown later opted not to go ahead with the retrial. Some of those convicted had already served 14 months in jail before the successful appeal.

Now the Crown’s handling of the case is being considered in detail in the High Court hearing where five people are seeking damages. The principal plaintiffs are Vincent James Clayton and Peter Lloyd Machirus.

Mrs Currie gave her evidence yesterday, denying a defence allegation that she had “suppressed” information to prevent the evidence of the key witness being ruled inadmissable because of an inducement of a lighter sentence to give his evidence.

She said the Wellington judge’s sentencing indication to the witness made it clear that he was being given no reduction as an inducement to testify.

The hearing was told earlier that the witness eventually received a 50 percent overall reduction of his sentence on charges that included his own burglary convictions.

Mr Clayton questioned the prosecutor in detail about when she had received a transcript of the sentencing indication and what she had believed it referred to.

She had disclosed to the Operation Rhino defence teams about the witness’ home detention and assault prosecutions in the sentencing indication transcript. She believed that when the judge referred to another Christchurch matter he had been referring to another trial, but she now understood it was Operation Rhino.

Mr Clayton asked: “Why did you not disclose the whole document in its entirety?”

Mrs Currie replied: “I wish I had.”

There had been repeated requests from the defence counsel. She was asked about one lawyer’s inquiry, but said she had not regarded it as a formal request.

It seemed to her that the witness was getting a discount on his sentence, but the Wellington judge giving him the sentencing indication was making it clear the reduction was not for giving evidence in the second Operation Rhino trial.

The first trial was aborted when one of the defendants became ill.

The current High Court proceedings will continue into next week.

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